Pulitzer, a cub newspaper reporter, was walking down Main Street of St. Louis, on his way to a meeting of reporters at a saloon. His stroll, it is safe to say, was not pleasant. Other reporters were following him and, as they liked to do, were making fun of him, for he was a fairly recent Jewish looking immigrant with a strong Hungarian accent.
“That’s Jewseph Pulitzer,” said one.
“You mean Joey the Jew,” said another.
“Naw, he’s Pull It Sir,” said yet another, sarcastically pulling at his nose.
Pulitzer forged onward, trying to keep his temper down amidst the cascade of anti-Semitic insults. He was six feet four inches tall and very skinny, with thick glasses perched at the end of a long nose. He would not be a formidable adversary in a fist fight.
“Hey Joey, your mother says it’s time for bed.”
“His English isn’t very good.”
“It’s time to go back to Germany, Joseph.”
Joseph, mounting the steps to the dining room of the establishment, returned fire.
“I’m from Hungary, you idiot!”
“He says he’s hungry.”
“Mommy must not have given him dinner.”
Pulitzer stomped into the restaurant, wishing these buffoons would go away, but of course, they would not. His fellow reporters were, at that point, a proverbial lodestone around his neck. On top of that, a lively crowd of manly men were imbibing whiskey in the bar room adjoining the restaurant, and there another enemy awaited him. It was Edward Augustine, who clutched a copy of a newspaper containing an article Pulitzer had written exposing him as a corrupt judge. Augustine, actually, was more of a contractor than a judge, but had a very convenient position as a judge on the County Court to award himself contracts. He was perturbed, to say the least, that Pulitzer had pointed this out. As a contractor, he was a strong and burly man, and he discarded his drink to confront the beanpole Pulitzer, and stormed toward him.
“Let’s see if you have the kind of guts in public that you do at the paper, Pulitzer,” he fumed.
“You are both a liar and a crook, Mr. Augustine, and by the time I’m done with you you’re going to wish you’d never come to St. Louis.”
Before Pulitzer could add on to this sally Augustine seized him by the lapels and hurled him into the wall, and the thin Hungarian collapsed on the floor before rising to his knees to look up at the bully, who now had his fists up in the boxing pose. Pulitzer, realizing he had no chance in such an encounter, decided to flee, and stumbled to his feet before scurrying out of the door that he had come in, and hustled away down the street.
“You’re not going to dare write about me like that again, you little pipsqueak!” Augustine blared after him.
Pulitzer rushed toward the rooming house where he was living seething with passions of revenge. On the way, he had a telling remark to make to a reporter on his way into the meeting.
“Stick around and you’ll have a real story to write about,” he said, without waiting for a response.
Pulitzer galloped up the stairs to his bedroom and burst into his room, searching his meager possessions for a pistol he owned. He made sure that it was loaded, and retraced the route from whence he’d come. When he reentered the restaurant Augustine again turned to confront him.
“Back for more, you little sissy?!” he cried out, storming forward.
But Pulitzer raised and cocked his pistol, in a rather clumsy fashion, allowing the men who surrounded Augustine to close in upon the attacker, and push his shooting arm downward, so the shot only grazed Augustine’s leg, who fell to the floor in a not a very pleasant mood.
“You goddamn little bastard, you coward, you sneaky little dog. This ain’t gonna be the end of this, I’ll tell you that!”
As the manly men took their hero away Pulitzer was disarmed by others, and then taken aside by his suddenly silent reporter acquaintances, two of whom escorted him to the Police Station.
* * * * * * * *
The next day Pulitzer sat in shame at his newspaper, the Westliche Post, facing the music in a meeting with his bosses.
“It’s so damn unfair, Mr. Schurz! These people are government sponsored crooks.”
“Yes, Joseph, I couldn’t agree with you more. But our job at the newspaper is to stay above the fray, not get down in the gutter and fight with them,” Schurz replied.
Schurz was a German immigrant who had escaped from jail after the Revolution there in 1848, and came to America to become a farmer. But then the Civil War intervened, and Schurz did more than his duty for the Union Army, rising to the rank of General. He was also a well-educated man and decided, after the war, to put his learning to use in the newspaper business.
“Don’t I have the right to defend myself?” Pulitzer cried out.
“You defend yourself with the newspaper, Joseph, not a gun.”
“The real weapon Joseph, is that little notebook that you carry around,” interjected his other boss, Thomas Davidson.
Davidson was not actually a newspaper man but a professor of philosophy, another immigrant from Germany. But he had grown tired of academia and wanted to do something closer to ordinary people. He was a very kind man, and saw that Pulitzer was very intelligent, but also a young man of strong feelings. He would come to be a mentor for the struggling young immigrant, who would grow, in time, to be Davidson’s employer.
* * * * * * * *
Joseph sat grimly at a pre-trial hearing in the Municipal Court of St. Louis shaking in his boots, as they say, afraid that Mr. Augustine would succeed in putting him in jail. Of course he had to plead self-defense, and who would not believe it, Pulitzer thought, if they’d seen the way that bully had thrown him against the wall like a sack of flour. There were other aspects of the story that were the reasons for his shaking—reasons Pulitzer himself did not enjoy thinking about that would lead toward attempted murder. In Pulitzer’s heart, however, this man was a public villain of the worst order so his own actions, faulted though they were, were in the public interest. Such being the case a little liberty with the facts was not unwarranted, with the added benefit of keeping him from going to jail.
The courtroom was divided in half by those parties who were sympathetic to the two sides. The halves were only regarding physical space, however, as the much larger half of spectators sat behind Augustine, with many of the belligerent manly men who had been with him in the saloon on that night. Their side reveled in a clear expectation of the imminent revenge of justice upon this upstart pipsqueak that they so despised. Pulitzer’s section was much smaller, unfortunately for him, consisting of Schurz, Davidson, and only three of the clique of reporters who were there on the night of the alleged attack, evidencing the fact that Augustine’s proponents were not the only people who had written off the future of Joseph Pulitzer. The two sides did, however, comprise the two sides in the battle for control of St. Louis: the Bourbon Democrats and their powerful political machine versus a new and lowly group of newspaper reporters. The odds-makers in Vegas, it might be presumed, would not have given the reporters much of a chance.
Augustine approached the bench to present his case in a state of slightly restrained anger, with his right pants leg rolled up to show the bandage from the shooting. In this court of law with the blind maiden of justice, thought Augustine, surely he would prevail, so he had confidence this little whippersnapper would be off to prison, for some time, and surely, with a criminal record, never return to being a reporter. Being a newspaper reporter was a tasteless job for sissies and weasels, and such panty-waists that were in charge there would never offer someone a job who had a criminal record.
“And so, Your Honor,” the fraudulent judge said to the presiding Judge, finishing up his case, “only the actions of my friends in restraining him saved my life.”
When his turn came Joseph Pulitzer meekly approached the bench with feelings of greatest alarm, for the deck seemed stacked against him. He attempted to amplify his case for self-defense by casting himself as the victim of a most ruthless bully.
“Mr. Augustine has mentioned some of the facts, Your Honor, but he left out how he verbally threatened me because of some reporting I had done about him,” the judge gave a knowing nod, “and then picked me up and threw me against the wall. I rose, your honor, and when I looked at Mr. Augustine, he raised his hand up in the air and he was holding something gold, your honor, which I thought looked like a gun.”
“That’s bullshit, Your Honor!”
The judge banged the gavel.
“Mr. Augustine, as you should be well aware,” he paused, with a cool glare at the corrupt judge, “this is a court of law, requiring decorum. If you use profanity again I will hold you in contempt. In addition, sir, you were allowed to present your case without interruption, so please allow Mr. Pulitzer to do the same. Please proceed Mr. Pulitzer.”
The insides of Joseph Pulitzer suddenly felt a spark. Could it be that the worm had turned? He felt a sudden rise in his standing before the court.
“And so, Your Honor, I thought that what he was holding might be a gun, so that I had to act in self-defense.”
Pulitzer sat down. His adversary glared at him, and the judge had to bang the gavel to quiet the grumblings of protest amongst the grossly offended Augustine supporters. Pulitzer stared ahead timidly, as the judge ruminated the case, surmising the size differential between the two opponents.
“The Court rules that the Defendant acted in self-defense,” ruled the judge. “There will be no trial. Mr. Pulitzer must pay the court costs, however, of one hundred dollars.”
The Judge then brought down his gavel with a resounding whack, and abruptly rose to leave the courtroom.
“All rise,” intoned the Bailiff.
There was no doctor present to measure the rise in blood pressure of Mr. Augustine, but it was precipitous. This was evidenced by the much redder color on his face, his apoplectic rise to his feet, and slightly restrained stamping and glaring at the departing judge. Joseph Pulitzer grinned gleefully with immense relief as he firmly shook the hands of Carl Schurz and Thomas Davidson. He clearly understood their non-verbal language however because his bosses’ facial expressions clearly said you’ve gotten away with something and are not blameless, Cub Reporter.
Who can say whether the decision by the Judge was somewhat political because he believed, like Pulitzer, that Augustine was a public crook who should be removed from his position as a Judge? Whatever the reason for the decision, however, one thing is clear. Had he decided the other way, in all probability, the journalistic career of Joseph Pulitzer would have come to an abrupt end.
Joseph and his partisans left the courtroom somewhat quietly, under the self-righteous glare of their opponents on the Augustine side, trying to keep their chins up despite some of the foul and indiscrete insults being cast in their direction. Without the Judge there to restrain them anymore the manly men felt free to broadcast their opinions, and the Bailiff did nothing to intervene. The battle lines were clearly drawn.
* * * * * * * *
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